Footpath opens after six years

A PROBLEM footpath at the centre of a six-year wrangle has been reopened after South Tyneside Council was found guilty of maladministration.

The footpath in Tavistock Place, Low Simonside, Jarrow, was closed in 2005 after residents complained it was attracting anti-social behaviour.

But couple Rosemary and Alan Sutton, of nearby Taunton Avenue, lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman about the way the closure had been handled.

Now Mrs and Mrs Sutton, who walked their dogs along the path before closure, say they feel "vindicated" after the council reopened the link a few weeks ago.

Mrs Sutton, 61, said: "This whole saga has dragged on since 2001, when moves were first made to close the footpath."

"Suddenly, the path was closed in 2005, but we have lived on the estate for 35 years and that has always been a public right of way."

"We complained to the Ombudsman, because we believed there was a lack of proper consultation before the footpath was closed."

The couple accept there were problems with local youths gathering in the area, but say police have addressed anti-social issues.

Mr Sutton, 65, said: "People have always used that footpath to get to the Bede Trading Estate or Bede Metro station."

"Then, in the summer of 2005, it was suddenly closed without any warning, but we felt the council had not followed all the proper procedures before closing it off."

"With this decision from the Ombudsman, we feel vindicated after this long, drawn-out story."

The couple also received the support of Coun Tom Defty, an Independent member for the Bede ward.

Coun Defty said: "I was unhappy with the way this footpath closure was handled by the council and met with senior officers to express my concerns."

"Although not everyone is happy about the footpath being reopened, this was a matter of principle for Mr and Mrs Sutton and I supported them when they took the matter up with the Ombudsman."

A letter from the Ombudsman to the couple stated: "I agree with you that the council has not dealt with this path's closure properly. The council has accepted there has been maladministration."

"All public paths are marked on a 'definitive map.' This is held by the council. If a path is not on that map, then there has to be evidence from elsewhere that the path is indeed a highway. In this case, the path is not on the map."

"This means that ultimately the council should have investigated the status of the footpath properly before installing any obstruction."

Coun Maisie Stewart, a Labour member for the Bede ward, said she accepted the Ombudsman's findings, but added: "I first took this up because residents complained about anti-social behaviour in Tavistock Place, but we accept proper procedures weren't followed."

Fellow Labour member Coun Tom Hanson added: "I have to declare an interest, because I live in Tavistock Place, and therefore cannot comment."

A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: "Following a complaint to the Ombudsman, the council agreed with the Ombudsman that the consultation on the footpath closure had not been as wide as it should have been."

"As a result, the council agreed to settle the complaint by instigating a fresh consultation exercise, which has now been done."


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